Going to a PopDefect gig at Al’s Bar on a Friday night in July, before the smoking ban and the house is packed, beyond packed even…you came home, threw all your clothes in the washer and washed your face, as if that would help. Woke up past noon smelling like Perth Amboy. Jump in the shower and then likely do it all over again on Saturday night if the line-up looked good. It usually did. What a glorious hell hole Al’s Bar was. All of us will die early from the air in there. Plus the bathroom fixtures were sticky. And the Pope getting everyone way too high on the back patio. How did they put their band sticker way up there? I saw your name in the men’s room. It says you rock. You put your cigarette out in my beer. What a stupid band name. There’s somebody fucking in the photo booth. My car got broken into again, and I gave the homeless guy a dollar to watch it. No, the bartender’s boyfriend is in the band. No, not the drummer. We’re not on the guest list? Jackson Brown, here, really? It was better before they earthquaked it. Art fag! Damn, if my wife wasn’t here I could get so laid right now. Can we get anything in the monitors? Wow, Seattle. God that art sucks. Are the smoke machines really necessary? You live upstairs? Uh oh, I owe her money. I go to Raji’s now but I drank too much. I was way up front and that blonde’s ass was rubbing against me the whole time. Dude, you gotta lay off the junk. Tip or die! Shit, took so long to find a parking space I missed the first band. Who were they? They don’t serve food in here? Yeah, I know, but I’m clapping because they put me on their guest list. I used to walk here from the Brave Dog. It was cool then. Spoken word? In here? It’s five bucks for the single but it’s colored vinyl. Cliff said no way. I saw a dead guy out on the sidewalk once. My band is here next month. Can I get a martini? No? We’re kind of a Stooges meets Velvets meets Exile on Main Street era Stones thing, but all original. Just talk to the bouncer, he always gets me in. How come there’s never any toilet paper in the ladies room? Wow, another Flipside guy. The beer is warm. I couldn’t hear a fucking thing up there./ Yup, I smoked a joint with Kurt Cobain where that pile of boxes is now. I didn’t know you played the saxophone. I met Angie Bowie here once. I met my ex-boyfriend here. I thought I met Robert DeNiro here once but it was just some guy. Either I’m way too stoned or that band is way too weird. After party? Where? Can I come? Their seven inch is worth big money now. She’s a performance artist, but be nice. We got reviewed in Maximum Rock’n'roll, but I couldn’t tell if they liked us or not. Yeah, but he’s an asshole now. We wanna shoot our video here. Under the table at rock’n'rolI Denny’s? Really? I dunno, some shitty band from Boston or Austin or something. They’ll be done soon. I can’t find my shit. She’s naked. Completely. We got banned from no talent nite ’cause we were too talented. Here’s a flyer. Who didn’t you sleep with? We need gas money. A naked guy jumped into the drum kit when I closed my eyes. This is a drinking song! My feet are killing me. It’s on compact disc, but all I have is a cassette player. I liked ‘em better when they couldn’t play. Wiener Gotcha. Hey, that’s George Herms. The band wasn’t much, but the chick on bass was hot. Whose getting laid on top of the volkswagen? No, outside. I played pool with Jerry Brown but my girlfriend danced with Linda Ronstadt. Dude that’s way too many piercings. Would you guys mind, we’re trying to conduct an interview here. Sounds like he blew an amp. Yeah, the hot little bartender is a writer, I always tip her extra. El Duce pissed on me once. You should have seen the encore. We were getting high in the soundbooth..we know the guy.Those assholes can’t play pool worth shit. The singer showed me her boob job. TURN DOWN!!!! I hate this place. Wait, I’ll go to Bloom’s for more rolling papers. That guy’s been hitting on me all night, I think he’s from Orange County. I never liked this punk metal shit. There is no industry list. The dominatrix at the bar teaches at my kid’s school. Art damage, they still call it that? Oh, that smells good. They’re trying to find the drummer now. What does a fluffer do? Whose beer did I just sit in? There’s glass all over the floor there. I think I got her phone number. Remember when these guys were good? The toilet overflowed. She’s one of those Brat Pack chicks, ignore her. It’s a fanzine, there’s a xerox machine at work. I think of them as art films, actually. She hated the band so much she threw the money at them and told them to get off the stage. Look across the street, a yuppie. Let’s fuck with him. Meet ya at the Chinese Denny’s, you can sober up there. Sonic Youth, here? Or just somebody from New York? Jack Brewer weirded me out. He always does. You get a flyer? Puppet shows never work in here. Sex Bomb! Not rockabilly, swampabilly. This is the greatest place in the world if you’re fucked up. There’s not enough graffiti in the bathroom. She thinks she’s Siouxsie Sioux. He’s drinking all the half empty beers. I know all the backstreets. Oh god, another yuppie. There goes the neighborhood.
I’ve never told anyone this before, but there was a two week stretch there maybe a decade and a half ago when I must have listened to He Stopped Loving Her Today a hundred times. Over and over. Once turned to twice turned to thrice turned to twenty times. I couldn’t tell you why, but there I was, in the dark, maybe a little stoned, George Jones singing this most perfect song ever in a tone I knew I could never match in words even if I spent a lifetime trying. I met a trumpet player once, a fine jazz musician, a bebopper, who confessed to me over a couple whiskeys that he wished he could play like George Jones sang. The other jazzers kind of laughed nervously, unsure what to say. I said nothing. I knew exactly what he meant.
I started writing this a verse or two into the tune. A couple sentences later I spun it again. And again. He stopped loving her today fades, a piano descends five notes, strings disappear way into the background and are gone. They’re Nashville strings but you couldn’t tell here, they’re so subtle, the band is so subtle too, the drummer swings the thing like a funeral dirge. Which it is. They placed a wreath upon his door. I had a fight with the wife once, said things I wish I hadn’t, hid in the living room in the dark, and kept thinking about those letters by his bed, all the I love you’s underlined in red. I played the song. Played it again. Again. I went into the bedroom and said I love you. It was underlined in red. In my mind I mean, three little words underlined in red. This might sound like the dumbest thing you ever heard, but then I’m not talking to you people. I’m talking to the people who heard George Jones finally died, the ol’ Possum, and found themselves singing they left a wreath upon his door. You knew you would too. And you knew you’d cry just a little. Which you did. He stopped loving her today.
On the Friday morning of the week the bombs went off in Boston, this is what struck me:
Chechens have been a warlike people even by the impressive standards of the Caucasus. This is a region where, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union I can think of at least 5 wars…and the wars tend to be long, nasty, murderous and destructive. The Chechens themselves have been in a state of almost constant war against one dominant enemy or another for at least half a millennium. There aren’t many of them, so toughness has helped them survive as a people. When Tolstoy skittered off to the Caucasus to join the army (I think he had gambling debts) he was involved in fighting Chechens (and wrote a novel and at least one short story about it, I seem to remember.) When Chechens decided to war with Russia–that is a people of maybe a million deciding to take on a nation 150 times more populated and a zillion times better armed–it cost them a tenth of their people dead and a land laid waste. Then they decided to do it again. There was a series of stunningly violent and murderous terrorist incidents–numerous bombings and suicide bombings, assassinations, and the notorious hostage situations at the Moscow Opera House and a pre-school, each of which the Russians ended with extreme prejudice and mayhem. There seems to be a deeply rooted culture of the doomed warrior among Chechens, very romantic to Chechens, insane and appalling to outsiders. So you drop a bunch of Chechens into the U.S. and I’m not surprised that a couple of the young men–just a couple–declare war on America for no other reason than it seems a man’s duty to fight the ruling power. You can take the boy out of Chechnya but not the Chechnya out of the boy. It would have made more sense to get on a plane, fly to Dagestan, and pitch in against the Georgians or Russians or whoever. But maybe they didn’t have the wherewithal. So you blow your bombs up here, kill some cops here, become wild Chechen warrior bandits here. We are confused and appalled, the world is confused and appalled, even those who war with us now are confused–but within a generation or two back home the brothers will have taken on a romantic sheen and legendary status among young, restless, warring Chechnyans. It’s a crazy place, the Caucasus, and those who live on easy flat lands in big comfortable countries will never, ever understand. Never at all.
That’s my take on this Friday morning. No idea if it’s anywhere close to the truth. But there it is.
I gotta say I’ve driven from Tucson to Tucumcari and Tehachapi to Tonopah, but never on weed, whites and wine. Well, not on whites, anyway.
Like that time, so long ago, and we were driving somewhere in the vastness of the Great Basin and there was a zillion stars overhead and no other traffic, no nobody. I had the windows down and the desert air was so dry and pure, and “Willin’” came crackling off the radio and I was singing along and Lowell George’s words made more sense, just then, then any other song in the world. The bowl came my way and I drew deep and the night grew even blacker, the stars brighter, and I exhaled just in time to join in on the chorus. “Driven every kind of rig that has ever been made….” which was a lie, I was in a Buick, and had always been in a Buick, for years. No matter, I was on the back roads and no one was weighing anybody. Give me weed, whites and wine….but we had no wine, and coffee instead of whites, but I drew deeply on the weed again, and I saw a sign, all shot up, warning of flash floods, but not tonite, not with all these stars. and right then I was willing to drive around the desert all night, with nothing but the road and us and the keening coyotes and the crackling trucker songs coming all the way from Gallup, where the announcer said everything in Navajo like it was when there was no radio here at all, and we drove and drove till sleep caught up with us near Winslow, Arizona and we bedded down for the night.
There’s a meteor crater out there, you know, big and terrifying, and ghostly Indian cities deep in canyons, still and silent but for the wind. Up north they pull dinosaurs from red sandstone. But just then it was pitch dark and the bed was soft and we sank into it and slept deeply, and if there were dreams they were forgotten by the morning,
Written in 2007 and appearing on the LA Weekly.com site, this seems ancient now, from another life time, another person really, utterly unjaded and trying hard as he possibly can to be a jazz critic.Oh jeez. Fun story, though, and a very fond memory.
I love my buddy Dean. Ya can’t not love him…he’s a nut. And inspired, brilliant, funny, knows everything and everybody Sicilian motormouth of a musician from New York City with a heart the size of Indiana. A place he probably hates. So Dean begins emailing and calling me at work on Monday morning (no kidding…it was a Monday morning) and starts in at turbospeed about some guy whose name I never did get except I think it sounded Slavic or Balkan, something central European and points east who’s a saxophone player from Cleveland and he’s the best and yadda yadda freaking yadda. And something about a neighbor who gets his Sicilian heart and points south a-stirring, and they are new best buddies, and she’s a sweetheart, and I’ll love her, and she’s an ex-dancer or something, and she comes from Cleveland, and she’s a publicist now and has this new client who’s this saxophonist from Cleveland, and she’s got him a gig or showcase at Catalina’s and you have to be there because I told her (in a drunken moment I am sure) that you are a ”jazz journalist” for that weekly whatever it is you write for and I promised you’d be there. Continue reading
(I wrote this on Oscars night. I remember staying up late editing it. Then I decided it was a failure and didn’t post it. But here ’tis, failure or not.)
We go to the Rock’n’roll Ralphs for the thrill.
We have our own Ralphs here in Silver Lake, but it’s all normal now. Silver Lake is all normal now, Silver Lake used to be Silverlake and edgy and new and leathery gay but that’s long gone, gone with the punks and the freaks and the vatos. It’s all rich people and hipsters with kids and beautiful single women. Ours is a nice Ralphs. There’s a couple Ralphs across the river in Glendale…there’s an Armenian Ralphs and an upscale Ralphs and between them an eerie underground Ralphs that always make me think of Beneath then Planet of the Apes. You enter the parking lot above ground and way in the corner there’s a winding driveway that leads you into the Stygian darkness below. Inside, though, it’s just a regular Ralphs. Continue reading
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Damn, that’s a beautiful line. A little romantic maybe, but beautiful. Very much Europe apres le deluge. Vast wars are still in the future, ancient empires intact, and even weirdos were harmlessly dancing. Sweet. Nostalgic. Flowers in the rain.
Of course, Nietzsche wound up completely insane. Utterly mad. Which led me to wonder about his quote. It didn’t sound like Nietzsche. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Now that was Nietzsche. And it didn’t sound like German, either. ”You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” That sounded German, with the verb sitting there solidly at the end. “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” lilted. It’s musical. In rolls off the tongue in English and English has rolled off the tongue like that since the Normans dressed up our west Germanic language in layers of French finery. English and German deep underneath are quite the same. But we’ve moved a few things around, softened a lot of consonants and Continue reading
(St. Patrick’s Day, 2012)
I was watching Going My Way on TCM for the first time in ages a couple nights ago. It’s about as Irish as it gets…Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. It so reminds me of my mom’s side, my grandfather, the whole bit. We were raised on that side. My pop was German, raised fiercely Lutheran and German speaking. Kein englisch in diesem Haus. Immer deutsch. Even though that house was in Flint, Michigan. Catholics were verboten, too. The Thirty Years War was still being fought in those days in some places. Every German Lutheran Church was a battlefield, a besieged city. As if the America all around it didn’t exist.
My Dad, though, met my Mom. It was at a party at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey; he had a new blue Buick. She had blue eyes, a hint of a brogue and was lovely and Irish Catholic to her very bones. The laugh, the temper, the father who drank a wee bit. Old Germans had listened to Hitler on the shortwave, while the old Irish boys hung out in bars and Continue reading
There’s that word again. No idea what it means. So I took a quick look at the Wikipedia entry. Ontology, it explained, is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality.
Then I closed the window.
But it wouldn’t close. The frame hung there. I clicked the little x in the corner. Nothing. Again. Still nothing. Then I pulled up the Task Manager. It showed no applications running. None. But the Wikipedia ontology page was there. I could see it. The philosophical study, it still said, of the nature of being, existence or reality.
Yet the task manager said it could not be there.
So I turned off the computer. All that being, existence and reality went poof. I sat there staring at a blank screen.
Then I powered up the computer. It whirred and plinked and blinked and offered me a choice. I could go to my home page, or return to my original session.
I chose the latter.
The wikipedia page reappeared. Ontology, it explained, is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality. But was the page really there? I clicked the little x in the corner, and it vanished. Poof.
Just picked up The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry, and this one, by the French veteran Benjamin Peret, really struck me with its casual, almost savage tone, and the marching sing song cadence. There was no idealism left at all by this point, nothing but fighting for fighting’s sake. All the romanticism of La Belle Époque is just gone, gone forever. We still haven’t gotten it back.
‘Little Song of the Maimed’
Lend me your arm
To replace my leg
The rats ate it for me
I ate a lot of rats
But they didn’t give me back my leg
And that’s why I was given the Croix de Guerre
And a wooden leg
And a wooden leg
Not sure when Peret wrote this, that Penguin book is short on that kind of information. Kind of drives me nuts. Anyway, though I don’t know when he wrote it, it has the feeling of after the war. All that pre-war ornate language is gone. People liked to write before the war, huge long wordy things full of detail and conversation. After the war everything is Continue reading